Examine your fault lines and their effect on others
Q. Reading these chats and columns, we hear about a lot of people who are varying degrees of horrible, and a lot of times the advice to the people complaining about them is some variation on "drop them, they're not going to change." And I always agree.
The thing is, I imagine that most of the horrible people being talked about think they're fine people who deserve happiness. I think I'm a decent person. I know I have faults. I try to work on my faults, but I know I'll never fix all of them, and frankly dwelling on my faults is not my favorite use of time. What will make me different from those horrible people who deserve to get dropped from the lives of good people?
Holding Up the Mirror
A. Well, of course, no good person is without faults. In fact, facing faults can make you a good person. That's the main answer.
Since you're right, I think, to accept that some of your faults aren't going away and that dwelling on faults isn't a sunny use of one's time, the logical place to turn your attention is to faults that hurt other people and yourself.
I'm not talking a tendency to get loud when you're excited about a conversation, or to get absent-minded when you're busy. I'm talking about, for example, manipulating people so that relationships take care of your and only your needs, or using others to get some tangible thing you want, or dumping your problem on friends, family or colleagues so you don't have to deal with it yourself, or bullying people to make yourself feel bigger and better — or any other way of living at others' expense.
That's the kind of stuff that pops up in this forum as a deal-breaker, a problem that makes severing the relationship the only realistic solution. People who catch themselves doing these things — or have the same things consistently pointed out by people they trust, or who catch themselves gradually and mysteriously friendless — need to dwell on their faults for a while, at least long enough to identify them and modify their behavior.
Even if you're not in that extreme category, I could argue for some self-evaluation at the next level down: when maybe you aren't making others miserable, but your behavior is making you unhappy. Choosing people who are bad for you, not taking care of yourself, just feeling stagnant, rudderless or bleah.
After that, if you reach the equilibrium of generally being okay with you, and a sufficient number of friends are okay with you, and if they're okay with themselves, and you're okay with them and with their being okay with themselves — I think that covers it — then, sure, what can you do but truck along, faults and all.
By the way, being in this latter state of just-fine equilibrium doesn't inoculate you against getting dropped for not changing. Sometimes two perfectly good people just aren't meant to get along.
Do something positiveto combat the negative
Q. It seems that everywhere I turn these days there's bad news — food shortages, rising gas prices, etc. — and it's really starting to get me down. How do you deal with things when there's so much negativity out there?
Blahs and More Blahs
A. Cultivate your little patch of earth the best you can, and, if you have energy to spare at the end of the day, pitch in on someone else's. If it helps to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," that's fine too.